Tag Archives: Archaeology

Communications from the Creator

engineering-plans Today I want to offer a modest proposal: that God acting in human history is a reasonable possibility. What I offer here is by no means a “proof”, in even the loosest sense of the word, of the existence of the personal, relational, God of Christianity. But it is, I hope, something that opens the door to possibilities you might have dismissed out of hand in the past.

I’ve heard some very intelligent people through the years say they could agree to the need for a Creator or Supreme Being to “get things started”, but the idea of a personal, interacting God as Christianity describes is a bridge too far for them. This conviction may be due to the fine-tuning of the universe or the amazingly precise information management system of our DNA, or from the recognition of the implications of the law of causality and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This idea that God is a distant “Watchmaker” who wound up the universe and and walked away is typically known as deism, but this is not what the Bible advocates. In fact, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes “And without faith it is impossible to please Him {God}, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[1] There are two requirements listed here: 1) accept the fact that God does indeed exist, and 2) accept that God will respond to our seeking. In other words, God is not the uninterested, detached god of deism, but rather one who interacts in human history.

We see so much apparent design in our natural world, that we have to ask if there was a designer. And if there was, would that designer leave any kind of message to convey intent regarding his “product”? You can review some of the reasons for believing in a Creator/Designer based on the Teleological Argument (or the argument from design) here, but this really doesn’t take us past the the idea of basic theism, that some god exists. It may be one or more gods; it may be a god who did indeed get the universe started, but who no longer exists for some reason; or it may be that deadbeat god of deism who gets things started and walks away.

Seeing design aspects in nature, I tend to think of God’s designs in terms of engineering. As an engineer, when I design a building, I invest myself in that design. I care about what happens to it. And so I write instructions pertaining to various stages of its lifecycle. A project will typically have sheets of “general notes” on our drawings, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of pages of project specifications.  All of this is to detail what’s acceptable and what’s not in terms of construction materials, building loads and uses, acceptable substitutions, and so on. I don’t just say, “Make it work,” and leave the contractor to guess how to meet the building requirements without any instructions. I’m not going to design a mezzanine and tell the client, “Here’s a mezzanine design for your warehouse, but I’m not going to tell you if it’s rated for a 300 psf load capacity or only 50 psf. Don’t worry – you’ll figure it out pretty quickly once you start stacking boxes on it. If it starts sagging, you’ve exceeded my design.” That would be crazy. When we go to the effort to design something, we try to leave instructions regarding our intent for its proper use. The more complex the design, the more important the instructions are. It seems reasonable to me that if God exists, and put so much incredible planning into this universe, this world, and us as humans, He would provide some “documentation,” so to speak. Now, we have a collection of documents – the Bible – that does, in fact, claim to be a message from this Creator, addressed to His creation.

But how could one know if such a book really is what it says it is? There are a couple of ways. One is to check the accuracy of statements made in it that we can confirm historically and archeologically. If we find its record of history confirmed independently, through other sources, then we are warranted in trusting it to some degree.  In this, the Bible has been confirmed repeatedly. Many things mentioned in the Bible aren’t recorded elsewhere, though. Or if they were, those corroborating sources have been destroyed or are yet to be found. However, when we find archeological evidence for the truth of the biblical records,  in the absence of outside sources, that is a powerful piece of evidence in favor of the Bible. For while we might say that biblical authors were simply copying from their contemporary authors (and so of course they matched up), finding an actual town or a monument to a king or ruler that no other sources besides the Bible ever mentioned is very hard to refute. This has also been been the case with the Bible on multiple occasions. So we have a collection of writings from multiple authors spanning well over a millennium that presents a coherent, historically accurate, archeologically-verified record of events. But it also claims that all of this is due to the divine inspiration of its writers by the all-knowing Creator of the universe, and that He used them to convey His message to humanity. That would explain the historical reliability of it in its accounts of natural history. So could it be telling the truth in its record of supernatural history as well? When Luke records the minutest details about people and places visited, and these are repeatedly confirmed, should we not at least entertain the possibility that he may be telling us the truth when he records miracles as well?

Secondly, there is the issue of prophecy. Anyone who has ever watched the weather forecast knows that it is extremely difficult for us humans to predict events even a few days in advance. Yet the Bible contains prophecies that were made hundreds of years in advance of their fulfillment. While some prophecies might be vague enough to be rationalized, I want to point out one I’ve always found particularly interesting in its specificity. Isaiah 44 and 45 record a prophecy that a specific king named Cyrus would set the captives free, restore Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple there, without asking for payment or reward. This was fulfilled 150 years later when Cyrus, King of Medo-Persia, allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild their city and the Temple, and even provided them with money to purchase building materials. Predicting the name of a future foreign ruler generations in advance is beyond any natural human abilities and does speak to the supernatural inspiration of the Bible.

In summary, I think the corroborating historical records and archeological evidence, combined with fulfilled prophecy, point to the legitimacy of the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration. And if it is divine communication, then this is truly the most important message ever put into human language, and it is incumbent on all of us to study it relentlessly. For in so doing, we learn not only of a God powerful enough to create a perfectly-planned, finely-tuned universe out of nothing, but also of a God who loves each of us more than we can ever understand, enough that He entered into human history to offer reconciliation and redemption to a rebellious and ungrateful humanity. And that, my friend, is the God I serve.


[1] Hebrews 11:6.
[2] Isaiah 44:24-28 & 45:1-13.

Permanence

churchAs an engineer, most of the states I’m licensed in require that I take continuing education courses to keep up with new technology, new laws and codes, new analysis methods, and so forth. A recent email advertised a webinar on “Design Considerations for Wood Frame Construction for Permanence.” I admit, I work primarily with steel, and live in a part of the US with high humidity and termites, so I tend to not associate the words “wood” and “permanence”. But the picture in the email caught my eye because it was something I’ve had the opportunity to see for myself: a Norwegian Stave Church. These are wooden church buildings built in Norway in the Middle Ages, with the oldest surviving one being almost 900 years old. That’s about as permanent as you can get with wood construction! They are beautiful buildings to walk through, and a real testament to the craftsmanship of those early builders.

That reminder of permanence made me think of a project I played a small part in recently, at the opposite end of the spectrum, where I did some steel connection design for a new multipurpose community center being built in a nearby city. What was surprising about that project was that this new building was being built over an old airport. In fact, the swimming pool was going to be practically in the middle of where the runway had been. Now, an airport is usually a big infrastructure investment for a city. Yet that airport was being demolished to build a community athletic center. Soon there will be no evidence left of this significant land use other than a few oddly aviation-related street names, and a listing in outdated maps that will get replaced shortly. Eventually, streets will be renamed and/or rerouted, and there will be no physical evidence left that there was ever an airport there. So it is with much of what we design and build. Even when we design for an indefinite service life, most of our finished projects will likely be demolished at some point because their location is more valuable for some future enterprise than the building we invested so much time in designing.

What will archaeologists 1000 years from now find to tell them about our culture? With our culture’s emphasis on updating, recycling, “planned obsolescence”, and designing for defined product lifecycles instead of indefinite use, would future people be able to ascertain any specific details of our civilization? Especially in our digital age, there is surprisingly little durable evidence of much of what we do. That’s something to keep in mind when approaching the Bible. We don’t have physical evidence for everything described in the Bible, but it’s actually pretty amazing that we have any evidence from so long ago.  And what we have found matches up well with what the Bible describes. Rather than look at the absence of confirming evidence as a strike against the Bible as so many have, look at how much is confirmed. As the archeologist Sir William Ramsey found when he went to Asia Minor in the late 1800’s to investigate the historicity of the biblical book of Acts, the evidence speaks for itself. In fact, he tells us that “I may fairly claim to have entered on this investigation without any prejudice in favour of the conclusion which I shall now attempt to justify to the reader. On the contrary, I began with a mind unfavourable to it, …. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[1] You see, Ramsey approached the case regarding the authorship of Acts from the then-currently espoused view that Acts was written by an anonymous Christian centuries after the events described, motivated more by pushing an agenda than telling the truth. But he was open to other possibilities and willing to follow the evidence wherever it led him. And it led him to the conviction that Luke was the author of Acts and was an eyewitness and was, in fact, a historian of impeccable quality. In the 100+ years since Ramsay investigated the claims of the Bible, even more corroborating evidence has been discovered to support the book of Acts and many other accounts in the Bible (read more here).

We live in a constantly changing world where permanence is a very relative term. “Here today, gone tomorrow”, as the saying goes. Knowing that, a lack of evidence for historical events shouldn’t surprise us. Many ancient events took place in oral cultures where little was written down. Even when they were recorded, those records have often been lost forever due to wars, political purges, floods, fires, earthquakes, and other destructive events. But when we have a record like the Bible that continues to be confirmed over and over again,  we have to set aside whatever skepticism we approached it with, and be willing to admit when we’ve gone beyond “reasonable” doubt. As Ramsay would say, “We must face the facts boldly.”[2] When we do, we find that they lead straight to God.


[1] William Ramsay,  St Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (Illustrated), Kindle Edition, Kindle Locations 304-309.
[2] ibid., Location 390.

Digging up Fairy Tales

Ruins in Ephesus, by Valeria RestucciaI’ve heard the Bible referred to as a collection of fairy tales, superstitions, myths, legends – fiction by whatever name you want to call it. But this got me thinking. Nobody goes looking for the ruins of Prince Charming’s castle or Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Nobody does this because they’re fairy tales. But, if someone did find the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis, or some other fairy tale/myth/legend, what would we decide? That it wasn’t just a story. Physical remains of the events of a story point to the story being actual history rather than make-believe. How then does the Bible compare? Is there actual evidence for the events recorded in it? Actually, there’s quite a bit, and the list is growing all the time. Let’s look at just a few examples.

At one time, people didn’t believe that Pontius Pilate really existed as the Bible was the earliest and most descriptive  source telling of him.[1] That was before archaeologists found the “Pilate Stone” in Caesarea Maritima in 1961. This stone’s inscription tells that “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea”, had dedicated a stadium to the Emperor. This is actual physical evidence from his lifetime corroborating the Bible narrative.[2]

Skeptics since the 1800’s have doubted the authenticity of Luke’s writings in the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts in the Bible. For example, skeptics doubted Luke’s use of different official titles when describing the different encounters with tetrarchs[3], politarchs[4], asiarchs[5], proconsuls[6], and other positions in different cities. In the case of the politarchs of Thessalonica, Luke’s was the only account to use that term, and so it was seen as a historical discrepancy. Now, we have found over 32 inscriptions bearing the name “politarch”, 19 from Thessalonica, and 3 of those 19 from the first century. This has led John McRay to say that it is now “incontrovertible” that politarchs existed before and during the time of Luke’s writing.[7] In fact, 84 different historical facts in the last 16 chapters of the book of Acts have been confirmed through various archaeological finds or historical literature corroborations.[8] For the skeptic who honestly investigates the subject, it is difficult to not arrive at the same conclusion that Sir William Ramsay, the British archaeologist of the 1800’s did: “I began with a mind unfavorable to it [Acts]…. It did not lie then in my line of life to investigate the subject minutely; but more recently I found myself often brought into contact with the book of Acts as an authority for the topography, antiquities, and society of Asia Minor. It was gradually borne in upon me that in various details the narrative showed marvelous truth.”[9] His research led him from skepticism to placing Luke “among the historians of the first rank.”[10]

Looking further back, King David of Israel was believed to be a myth until the Tel Dan inscription was uncovered in 1993 that told of another king’s victory over a “son of Jehoram king of the House of David”. This was the first archaeological evidence found for King David.[11]

Christianity has always been unique in its appeal to evidence, both by Jesus and his first followers.[12] But that support has increased dramatically over the last century, and shows no signs of changing. Not only that, but the evidence that has been found consistently affirms the Biblical account. We aren’t being asked to believe in fairy tales, but rather in a reasonable account of God’s interaction with humanity as recorded through eyewitness testimony of actual historical events.


[1] John 18-19, among other references.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone, accessed 8/30/2015.
[3] Luke 3:1, NASB.
[4] Acts 17:6, Greek-English Interlinear translation (πολιτάρχας = politarchus). Sometimes translated as “leaders of the city” in English.
[5] Acts 19:31, Greek-English Interlinear translation (Ἀσιαρχῶν = Asiarchon). Sometimes translated as “officials of the province in English.
[6] Acts 18:12, NASB.
[7] John McRay, Paul:His Life & Teaching, 2007, p. 152.
[8] Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, 1990, as quoted in chapter 10 of Geisler and Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, 2004, p. 256-9. The list is also reproduced online at  http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html, accessed 8/29/2015.
[9] Sir William Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen, 1896, Kindle Edition, Location 309.
[10] ibid, Location 254.
[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Dan_Stele, accessed 9/1/2015.
[12] Luke 7:18-23 (Jesus), 2 Peter 1:16-18 (Peter), 1 John 1:1-3 (John), NASB.